NEW YORK – President-elect Donald Trump is using WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to cast doubt on the U.S. intelligence community’s case that Russia was behind hacking of the Democratic National Committee ahead of the 2016 election.
And he’s suggesting that the DNC is to blame for the hacking of its computers and emails, including those of top Hillary Clinton adviser John Podesta.
Trump continued his tweetstorm Wednesday by arguing the DNC did not have a “hacking defence” and questioning why the Democratic Party had not responded “to the terrible things they did and said.” He appeared to be referring to information in the DNC emails that was made public and led to the resignation of the DNC chairwoman and other officials.
“Julian Assange said ‘a 14 year old could have hacked Podesta’ – why was DNC so careless? Also said Russians did not give him the info!” Trump tweeted early Wednesday.
It was a striking spectacle for the incoming president to give credibility to Assange, whose organization has been under criminal investigation for its role in classified information leaks. Assange has said his source for the hacked emails WikiLeaks published during the campaign was not a government, but his assertion has left open the possibility they came from a third party.
The American intelligence community and Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill insist that Russia was behind the hacks, but Trump has repeatedly dismissed that allegation, challenging the intelligence experts who will help him make the weightiest possible decisions once he becomes president Jan. 20. Trump has insisted that the government doesn’t really know who’s behind the attacks. He has said he’ll release more information this week.
In a series of tweets Tuesday and early Wednesday, Trump wrote without evidence that the timing of an upcoming intelligence briefing on suspected Russian interference in the 2016 election had been delayed. “Perhaps more time needed to build a case.
“Very strange!” he wrote, using quote marks around the word “intelligence.”
Trump’s tweets, in line with repeated criticism of his nation’s intelligence leaders, caused confusion among intelligence officials, who said there was no delay in the briefing schedule. Transition officials said Wednesday that Trump would meet with CIA Director John Brennan, FBI Director James Comey and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper in New York on Friday.
This will be Trump’s first meeting with Comey since the FBI director’s later October announcement that the bureau was reviewing additional emails connected to Hillary Clinton. Many Democrats blame that eleventh-hour probe, which did not change the FBI’s conclusion that Clinton should not be prosecuted, for turning the election to Trump.
WATCH: Trump remains skeptical over Russian hacking, scheduled for intelligence briefing
The fresh clash came as Trump took further steps to fill his Cabinet and key White House positions, with his attention shifting toward the challenges of governing.
He announced that he wants Wall Street lawyer Jay Clayton to be chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, saying in a statement that his pick is “a highly talented expert on many aspects of financial and regulatory law.”
Trump has repeatedly said he wants to undo many regulations that he says have “stifled investment” in Americans’ businesses. Clayton, in a statement, said he’ll “carefully monitor” the financial sector and set policies that encourages companies to create jobs.
Clayton is the latest Trump pick with deep ties to Wall Street – having represented Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Barclays Capital Inc.
On Capitol Hill, meanwhile, Vice-President-elect Mike Pence told Republicans that Trump has signalled that “it’s time to get to work” and plans to have a shorter-than-usual 90-minute Inaugural parade on Jan. 20 and then go straight to the Oval Office to begin signing executive orders repealing some of President Obama’s actions. Pence did not specify the topics of the potential executive orders.
Trump promised late Tuesday to hold his first formal news conference since his Nov. 8 election victory next week in New York. He has already waited longer than any other president-elect in the modern era to hold his first exchange with journalists. Most have held such events within days of their elections.
Transition officials said Wednesday that Trump would address his business during a wide-ranging press conference but it was not clear if he would fully outline how he plans to avoid potential conflicts of interest involving the Trump Organization after taking office.
Trump was supposed to detail the business arrangements at a mid-December news conference, but postponed the event.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman, Julie Pace, Julie Bykowicz, Erica Werner and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.